There’s Never Been A Better Time To Visit Hawke’s Bay’s Diverse Wineries

By Jo Burzynska
Hawke's Bay has a concentration of fantastic wineries and cellar doors, like Trinity Hill.

Wine editor Jo Burzynska pays a visit to Hawke’s Bay’s wineries, which are bouncing back after a tough year and very much open for business.

On the eve of the 2023 harvest, Linden Estate winemaker Alex Hendry heard the terrible news that its vineyards on the Esk Valley floor were

“We had to pull off a harvest while we were digging vines out; it was quite mind-blowing,” Alex recalls. “Fortunately a lot of our vineyards are on the hillsides, but as everything in the winery was covered in silt after the floodwaters receded, we had nothing to harvest with at first, not even secateurs.”

Linden Estate cellar door.
Linden Estate cellar door.

“Our pinot gris was covered in silt, which took four months to dig out every vine by hand, while our pinotage barrels in the winery had turned completely upside down,” says Alex. But after hard work from the Linden team, help from volunteers, and a local winemaking facility providing space to make the vintage, the vines are flowering and Alex is pouring me a selection of his fresh and highly attractive 2023 wines.

Vineyards were lost and some wineries are still recovering, but Linden Estate and the Hawke’s Bay wine region more widely is very much open for business. Now is a great time to visit, given the exciting developments in the region that this year was selected as one of the Great Wine Capitals of the world, alongside internationally renowned names such as Bordeaux and the Napa Valley.

Chateau Garage winemaker Ollie Powrie in the 'tasting garage'.
Chateau Garage winemaker Ollie Powrie in the 'tasting garage'.

Adding to Hawke’s Bay’s established wineries is a new wave of forward-looking small wine labels

One of the attractions of a wine trip into the Bay is that its range of microclimates, terrain and soils means it does so much so well. That the region’s wineries are predominantly smaller enterprises, further magnifies the multitude of styles encountered at its cellar doors. Established wineries go from strength to strength, while this diversity has been additionally augmented through the emergence of a plethora of new forward-looking small wine labels making distinctive wines from interesting varieties and single vineyards across the region.

Largely made by a younger generation of winemakers, often as side hustles to their day jobs with larger wineries, this new wave of wines tends to be less conventional and more naturally focused. A number work with organic fruit, with vineyards such as the certified Two Terraces Vineyard on the Mangatahi Terraces supplying grapes for some fascinating expressions made by different winemakers. Look out for Amoise, Halcyon Days, Swift, Helio, Three Fates, Kenzie, Organised Chaos, Chateau Garage and Saorsa (the latter made by Linden Estate’s Alex Hendry). These may not yet have cellar doors but can be bought and enjoyed in some of the establishments recommended at the end of this article.

Halcyon Days’ Olly and Amy Hopkinson-Styles atop their harvest truck in the Osawa vineyard.
Halcyon Days’ Olly and Amy Hopkinson-Styles atop their harvest truck in the Osawa vineyard.

Hawke’s Bay is one of the few regions able to ripen the fuller-bodied black varieties of cabernet sauvignon and merlot that go into its classic Bordeaux blends. Also excelling with its fresh and peppery syrah in recent years, more juicy lighter reds are being made from the likes of cabernet franc on its own, and gamay.

At Askerne, which works with one of the widest ranges of grapes in the region, there’s even a rare carmenere.

In whites, the region’s focus remains on its flagship chardonnay, made in a spectrum of styles. As well as making riper pinot gris and sauvignon blanc, it’s also producing zesty chenin blanc, characterful arneis and some beautiful examples of briny newcomer, albarino.

Most vineyards are concentrated within the sheltering inland ranges close to the cities of Hastings and Napier. If exploring these by bike appeals, most of Hawke’s Bays’ wine subregions are now connected by the 200km of cycleways from coast to countryside, including a specific “Wineries Ride” that loops around the major Gimblett Gravels and Bridge Pā areas. Whatever mode of transport you choose for your travels, you might want to orient your cellar-door visits around subregions or styles, refuelling as you go at the winery restaurants around the region.

An aerial view of the Gimblett Gravel wine-growing region.
An aerial view of the Gimblett Gravel wine-growing region.

The Gimblett Gravels area has stony soils and hot weather, making it ideal for structured reds

Gimblett Gravels and the neighbouring Bridge Pā Triangle have stony soils and some of the hottest temperatures in the region, making them the places to head for structured reds and riper styles. In Bridge Pā you might want to sample the stylish wines of Paritua at its equally sophisticated cellar door, or fully immerse yourself through its Wine Festival on January 20.

In the Gimblett Gravels, Trinity Hill is a great place to start, with its extensive range of wines from local classics to more eclectic wines, such as its white Rhone blend, which can be sampled in a range of different tasting flights. It’s also worth exploring exceptional syrah at the variety’s national pioneers Stonecroft, likely poured by its owners at its small cellar door.

Cool zones and coastal breezes are ideal for fresher styles of wine

Coastal breezes make for fresher styles from the Bay. In the seaside subregion of Te Awanga, Clearview’s chardonnays are a must-taste, maybe over lunch in their long-established restaurant. At Te Awanga Estate’s elevated spot looking out over its vineyards to the sea, try its main focus of chardonnay and syrah, along with the odd eclectic “One Off”.

From the stunning deck or sunken lounge of Elephant Hill, you can taste more Te Awanga expressions in its “Sea” range, as well as its “Stone” wines from the Gimblett Gravels and “Earth” from the deep soils of its most inland site. It’s also one of the wineries with its own chic accommodation.

At altitude, fine crisp styles like pinot noir and sauvignon blanc

Inland, at altitudes up to 300m, wineries in Central Hawke’s Bay are also making crisp styles. Here the likes of Junction Wines and Lime Rock, are able to grow varieties more suited to cooler climates, such as pinot noir and sauvignon blanc. Elsewhere, the higher altitude Mangatahi and Crownthorpe terraces too are the source of some exciting cooler climate styles, largely made by wineries outside the subregion. Look out for these names on wine labels, or visit Monowai Estate and the mudbrick De La Terre winery in Crownthorpe.

As it’s New Zealand’s oldest wine region, visitors can get a taste of the country’s wine history in Hawke’s Bay. On the edge of Napier is the country’s oldest winery, Mission Estate, established in 1851. It’s the source of elegant modern wines that can be sipped in its historic cellar door or restaurant, housed in a grand former seminary.

Coleraine House at Te Mata Estate.
Coleraine House at Te Mata Estate.

Over near Havelock North, you’ll find the Te Mata Special Character Zone, created to acknowledge the unique character, winemaking history and micro-climate of the area. It’s home to Te Mata, founded in 1896, which is still growing grapes on some of the original 19th-century vineyard sites. Even without the history, it’s worth visiting for its wines alone, which continue to evolve.

Nearby are two more cellar doors with great wine and some of the best winery restaurants. Fabulous syrah and chardonnay can be had at Black Barn, whose newly reopened bistro boasts a great produce-led menu and one of the region’s most impressive wine lists, featuring wines from the Bay and beyond.

Craggy Range’s award-winning wines and restaurant are also across the way, with its new neighbourhood culinary outpost Mary’s in Havelock North.

Tony, Oscar and Evie at Tony Bish's The Urban Winery in Napier.
Tony, Oscar and Evie at Tony Bish's The Urban Winery in Napier.

Head into Havelock North, Hastings and Napier for more fine wines

You don’t even need to head out of town for a cellar door experience. In Napier, chardonnay king Tony Bish presides over his funky Urban Winery in the art deco Rothmans Building. There you can marvel at the mighty golden eggs Tony uses to ferment some of his wines, which can be enjoyed there, along with those from other producers and craft beers, accompanied by tunes played on vinyl.

In Hastings, Decibel Wines cellar door is right in the middle of the city’s rejuvenated CBD. Winemaker Daniel Brennan will take you through his diverse and extensive range of new-wave Hawke’s Bay wines, from his brightly-fruited malbec to zingy albarino.

Smith & Sheth's oenotheque (wine library) in Havelock North.
Smith & Sheth's oenotheque (wine library) in Havelock North.

Over in Havelock North, Aotearoa New Zealand Fine Wine Estates runs the centrally located tasting room, Village Oenothèque showcasing its local Smith & Sheth label, as well as its Pyramid Valley and Lowburn Ferry wineries. Its wine lounge offers a strong international wine list and its barrel hall theatre Heretaunga Studio transports visitors on an immersive multimedia journey through the company’s wines, vineyards and stories.

Hawke’s Bay’s urban centres add to the vinous bounty offered by its cellar doors in their establishments offering increasingly compelling wine tasting, drinking and purchasing opportunities.

Art Deco capital Napier is home to a gorgeous art-bar-cum-wine store Matisse with its eclectic and extensive wine list featuring boutique local and international producers.

Mister D pours a wide range of local producers, while Vinci’s Pizza and Sai have a good selection of new-wave Hawke’s Bay wines. Bistronomy also boasts both a bistro and a well-stocked wine shop.

Cellar 495. Photo / Instagram @495Wines
Cellar 495. Photo / Instagram @495Wines

I was wowed by the transformation of Hastings, with its cool new laneways and beautiful restored heritage and modern structures of its Toitoi Arts & Events Centre. Here in its grand Municipal Building, Master of Wine Michael Henley has opened Cellar 495. The wine bar offers a fascinating array of wines from near and far, which can be enjoyed as tasting flights, with delicious food, or for retail purchase.

Far from finding post-disaster demoralisation, I rediscovered a region full of thrilling new wines made and supported by an enthusiastic wine community. It had been a while since I’d last visited the Bay, but I left vowing next time to not leave it so long between trips.

Add to calendar: Napier’s Art Deco Festival in February 2024

Wine lovers heading to Napier’s famed Art Deco Festival this February are well served. As well as winery sponsor Mission’s wines flowing through proceedings, and its own Great Gatsby and Lawn Jazz Parties, a number of wineries are holding their own events.

In the first festival since 2020, Brookfields Vineyards is holding a dinner with Charleston dancing, while Tony Bish is teaming up with the neighbouring National Distillery Company for a Grapes & Gin Gatsby event. Find the full programme here.

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